• John Tallis: Mapmaker

    John Tallis 
    is considered to be one of the most renowned cartographers and publisher of the 19th century. His work is considered to be the last of the lavishly decorated and ornamental maps. They are works of art as much of geography.

     

    John was born in Stourbridge in Worcestershire about 1818 and it is possible he stayed working in the Midlands as a publisher in Birmingham, until he moved to London in the early 1840′s. He set up the first of his publishing businesses in Cripplegate, with Frederick Tallis, who was quite possibly his brother. This business lasted from 1842 to 1849 when it was dissolved. By 1846 the business had moved to Smithfield.

    From 1851 – 54, John set up another business, operating as John Tallis and Company and it was during this period that he produced the Illustrated World Atlas, produced for the 1851 Great Exhibition.

    The intriguing thing is, that at some point, John Tallis made the acquaintance of an engraver named John Rapkin who was an inspiration to Tallis. His stunning illustrations enabled the maps they produced to be beautiful illuminative works of art.

    John Rapkin’s work inspired John Tallis and they used travelogues extensively to guide John  Rapkin as he produced vignettes and ornamental engravings to embellish the Tallis maps.

    The maps were surprisingly uncolored, although when sold colorists were frequently employed to add tints to them.

    Tallis' maps represent the end of an era in the production of grand decorative atlases. Tallis is known for his series of small illustrations or vignettes, depicting foreign scenes which are sensitively arranged around the map itself. Tallis maps supplied the great desire for foreign exotica that was in demand in the mid 19th century. With his brother Frederick, the Illustrated Atlas of the World was published in about seventy parts between 1849 and 1853. Each part sold for one shilling or twenty-five cents in America, and was made available in Australia and other British Colonies almost immediately, in 1854. The maps were released one at a time enabling purchasers to make regular small payments.

    The cartography was both drawn and engraved by John Rapkin. The initial drawing was a collation of information from two sources. Map publishers paid for access to information concerning newly charted coast lines. They also used maps published previously by others. Tallis maps used the print medium of steel engraving. For this antique map of South Australia Rapkin would have carved the outline and text in a mirror image to his preliminary drawing on a sheet of hard steel. The plate would have been spread with ink and the excess wiped off leaving ink only in the grooves. A piece of paper was then soaked in water so as to become stretched and capable of squeezing into the grooves of the plate. It was then laid over the steel plate and rolled through a press leaving the ink in a reverse image to the steel plate.

    Tallis & Co employed various artists throughout the years to execute their trademark vignettes. They were generally artists trained in topographical tradition from provincial areas and, as was the trend in the 1820s and 1830s, came to London to apprentice themselves to a master engraver. At any one time two hundred or so were employed by the Tallis company with most of the Australian colonies being drawn and engraved by A.H. Wray, W. Lacey, H.Warren and J. Rodgers. Few, if any, of these talanted people would ever travel to the Antipodes, so the images in the vignettes are interpreted from written accounts. As a result the Dingo in the map of South Australian has the appearance of a collie dog, for it was an animal the artist was familiar with that fit the description!

    The Tallis maps are highly valued in Australia, especially the series of the individual colonies. They were the only decorative maps produced of the early colony showing internal detail: the map of Victoria depicts the substantial areas of gold mining, hand coloured in yellow, for example. The choice of images for each colony was dictated by the Victorian values of the day-whilst there was a penchant for the exotic among Europeans and Britons a completely ‘un-tamed’ land was not acceptable to their tastes. The images of Kangaroos and natives satisfy the exotica but images of European civilization served as an invitation to the “New Britannia”.